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Attending a Gig at What Cost?

By Morgan Harris

The United Kingdom has a world-renowned music scene. With around 1000 festivals occurring annually, and a live music revenue of £1.58 billion in 2019, music forms a huge part of our culture. Many students even choose where to go to university based on which city is ranked the best night out! But for all the joy that music events bring us, are we sacrificing our right to feel safe upon arrival? Has live music become synonymous with invasive body searches? Many have been witness to a nationwide abuse of power, where sexual violence is not uncommon at the hands of security staff.

The legalities

No one ever reads the T&Cs of their tickets right?! Me neither. But if you did you might notice that a common condition of being granted access to a music venue is being subject to a search. This is to protect us, as these searches often prevent illegal drugs and weapons from getting inside the venue. Please remember: you have the right to refuse these searches. However, doing so would almost guarantee that you get denied access to the gig or festival that you’ve already paid for. So what do most of us do? Put on a brave face and do as the stranger in the high vis jacket tells us.

The moralities

Whilst these searches might be legal, it doesn’t make them any less intrusive.

On a recent night out in Liverpool myself and my friend were taken to one side after the metal detector we walked through bleeped. We were given no verbal warning regarding what was about to happen. The security guard was a woman, and therefore the protocol of a search being conducted by a member of the same gender was followed. However, the search still felt very invasive and left us both feeling vulnerable. We were touched around our boobs, had hands shoved into our pockets very close to our genital areas, and had our shoes yanked off our feet with our socks being thrown into the street. This all occurred right next to where people were arriving to the venue and queuing to be let in. We felt humiliated and violated, so much so that my friend decided to go home (despite being granted entry).

I know my feelings are valid, and if you’ve experienced something similar your feelings are valid too. But the truth is, my experience doesn’t even come close to the sexual abuse that some people suffer at the hands of security staff.

The illegalities

There is information out there regarding what your rights are when it comes to strip searches by the police. For example:

  • The search must only take place in police custody or in a healthcare setting

  • The search must not take place in public view

  • The person carrying out the search must be the same gender as you

  • Where possible, every effort must be made to respect the individual’s dignity and to avoid embarrassment

  • There must not be any physical contact between the searcher and the individual

However, the line becomes blurred when it comes to searches conducted at music events. As a result, numerous people have recounted their experiences online of being the victim of a colossal abuse of power. It often feels as if security staff have not had proper search training or, if they have, that they choose to use their ‘own discretion’. Tragically, this often translates to sexual violence.

People who choose to share their experiences publicly have spoken of being taken to back alleys where security guards know there are no cameras; being physically assaulted by multiple members of staff whilst being ‘searched for drugs’; being sexually assaulted whilst being ‘searched for drugs’; having people around them be told ‘not to snitch’ when filming the injustice. In these incredibly intrusive situations, there has been no respect of dignity and no minimisation of embarrassment, as the police guidelines recommend. Why should it be any different for music event staff?

Having fun without fear

After going through a traumatic experience, a normal response can be to avoid similar situations for fear of the experience recurring. But we shouldn’t have to fear music venues. It is my hope that music events can be a place of community, togetherness and empowerment, and especially a place free of sexual violence. As bystanders, we need to be filming as much as we can without putting ourselves in harm’s way. In doing so, survivors can be supplied with evidence should they wish to seek justice. As for the perpetrators, thorough, universal training needs to be supplied to all security staff in the UK, with protecting the rights and needs of music attendees at its core. A more thorough vetting process of security guards should also be implemented, with more severe consequences for if protocol is broken.

If you have been affected by sexual violence at a music event, no matter how big or small you think the situation was, Say It Loud is a safe space supporting people of all genders. You do not need to report your experience to make it valid. However, if you feel that you would like to report something, Say It Loud has a number of resources that can help.

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